Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord.
A little about singing.
In those verses, “sing” is mentioned 6 times and “joy” is
referenced 4 times. As we know, when things are repeated in the Bible, we should probably pay attention.
God commands us to sing, as even He sings over His people
(Zephaniah 3:17). If we are to be like Him, singing should be a natural response. However, in our human condition, singing is an action that
can be separated from the condition of our heart; A joyful noise is different – it is a reflection
of our heart. Our musical talent (or lack thereof), our comfort, and even our song preference
cannot quench a joyful noise. A joyful noise can be made in any circumstance –
a season of blessings or a season of sorrow – because joy is not dependent on our
feelings, it is dependent on the finished work of Jesus. A joyful noise is our
response to what is already done. Therefore, joy should be evident in our singing.
With that established, why do we sing together?
Imagine you’re at a concert of a major hit band.
For example, my family went to see the Eagles last year. Guaranteed everyone
knows at least one lyric to one of their songs. Picture the band coming out on stage,
the first chord is played and the arena becomes alive with lights, sounds, and
voices. You quickly realize the stranger to your left and right are singing the
same words you are. What do you feel? Unified and excited – an atmosphere has
changed. You don’t even know these people, but you’re all having a great time
because you all know and love this band and song.
Unified voices are powerful, exciting, loud, and
effective. An atmosphere changes when the Holy Spirit is present and we, God’s
people, are singing together. We’re proclaiming the gospel, together. We’re
lifting Jesus high, together. You’re making a statement to the people on your
left and your right that you know and love the One we are singing to. Singing
in unity encourages the entire body. Singing over one another is commanded.
Ephesians 5:19-20 says, “be filled with the
Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual
songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving
thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord
Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of
Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,
singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your
hearts to God.”
Being committed to vertically focused,
theologically rich songs here at Community Bible means we are also committed a congregation fully engaged and singing the Word over one another. Your singing is encouraging someone near you in a season of struggle. Your singing is reminding someone the truth of the Gospel.
Your singing is a testimony in your own struggle that you can still make a
joyful noise in sorrow.
So, how do we prepare to sing together
at Community Bible?
Within the parameters of vertically
focused, theologically accurate songs, we plan our worship each week to
thematically lead us to response. Thematic planning gives us an entire
morning to lean in to a specific aspect of who God is or a Truth He is trying
to teach us. Each sermon series is planned out in advance and song selections
are made based on the passage of Scripture we’re going to be studying. For
example, our worship story two weeks ago looked something like this:
All the Earth sings of creation who was made to praise our Creator. Recognition
of our sin that separated us from our Creator lead us to repentance and Jesus
Thank You. Because of Christ’s sacrifice reconciling us to the Father, we
are secure in our identity (Who You Say I Am). This set our hearts on a
path of full focus on our lives hidden in Christ. Aaron preached on Obedience
and in order to fully surrender our lives in obedience to Christ, we must let
all worldly things Fade Away.
We don’t pick songs at random or just
because they’re popular. They’re prayerfully considered and planned in advance
because we want to steward the time we have together well. We want to sing as
we are commanded, not only growing in our own relationship with Jesus, but
growing in unity as we make a joyful noise, together.
I struggle with being still. Even in the moments that I do “nothing,” my mind will race with all the things I need to be doing, deadlines I need to meet or things I need to plan. I’ll find myself scrolling Pinterest to plan the next meal, texting a friend to catch up, or over-thinking every possible outcome to a situation I’m facing, all while I’m supposed to be resting. In a culture where there are things to occupy our time right at our fingertips (and a baby that likes to have a ninja party every time I sit down), there isn’t a lot of silence or stillness in my life right now. I’d be willing to bet many of us feel this same struggle every day.
Many times, over the last couple of months, I’ve been reminded to find and cherish my moments of stillness before there’s a newborn that needs my attention. The moments of silence will be less and less. I’ll be torn in more directions, and managing time, relationships and work will be anything but peaceful for a while. I’m challenged by this, I have intentions to follow the advice, yet I still find myself in a cycle of forgetting to stop and be still.
Apart from the busyness of life, I’m learning there’s a spiritual stillness that suffers from my inability to turn things off. After Aaron’s sermon this week, I was convicted that my prayer life has not been what it should be because it’s always interrupted with a thought that draws my attention away from the Lord quicker than I can stop it. We even have Bible apps on our phones, so am I completely still before the Lord when I have good intentions to read the Word and spend time with Him? No, because a notification comes through that draws me away, even if it’s for a split second. I think we often settle for “kind of quiet” because there is noise all around us, but I fully know in my heart that God has called us to more.
God calls us to “be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).” “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him (Psalm 37:37).” He tells Job, “Stop and consider the wondrous works of God (Job 37:14).” These aren’t suggestions, they’re commands. God’s desire is to be with us in the quiet, where His voice is heard because we’ve surrendered completely to finding intimacy with Him. God’s desire is to quiet our anxiety, quiet our need to control, quiet our plans and spend time with His children to mold our hearts to His. God’s desire is for us to pray, of course, but also to listen.
I’m challenging myself, and you, to find time this week to be completely still. Put away the phone, use a real Bible, journal, find a space with minimal distractions. Be still and think on the works of God in your life. Be still and listen for His voice. Be still and put aside the things that tear us in all different directions and rob our souls of intimacy with our Father. We may think there are more important things to do than sit in potential awkward silence, but the Lord has commanded us to still our hearts and minds to rest in His presence.
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5
Sometimes in corporate worship, we can get wrapped up in the music, be distracted by things around us or sing a song so much it becomes easy to forget what we’re singing. Here at CBC, we’re committed to theologically rich songs that point our hearts towards the Father and magnify Jesus. We’re careful in our song selections and it’s something I appreciate about our leadership and congregation’s commitment to singing Truth.
We introduced a new song a couple of weeks ago called Ever Be, and it’s one of my favorites – it has been for a few years. I admit I can sometimes fall into the category of singing a song so many times, I don’t pay attention to the lyrics as much as I should. As we were singing on Sunday, I was drawn to the opening lyrics, “Your love is devoted like a ring of solid gold, like a vow that is tested, like a covenant of old… Faithful You have been and faithful you will be. You pledge yourself to me and it’s why I sing.”
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in Hebrews 6, where we read of the certainty of God’s promise.
For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So, when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
I have always loved the assurance we see in these verses of the character of God and the depth of His promises. An oath is defined by, “a solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one’s future action or behavior.” To capture the greatness of God, we see that when He made a promise, He had nothing greater to swear by than Himself. He is His own divine witness. That thought alone can blow my mind when I consider how big, powerful and holy God is. We also see that His desire was not to just make a promise to His people, but to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose. When God has made promises, oaths, or covenants to His people throughout Scripture, it is impossible to change them and His desire is to encourage and reassure us of His love and commitment.
So, when we sing songs like Ever Be, we don’t have to just sing the lyrics and not know the deep, rich meaning behind them. There are countless reasons to sing His praise and to declare how worthy He is. We sing because His love is devoted to us like a covenant of old, like the promises He made to Abraham. We sing because He who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23) and will continue to be. He has pledged Himself to us as we have given our hearts to Him in surrender and we have this truth as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul to give us hope as we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:13).
I’m a planner. The more information I can get, the better. I love spreadsheets and options. I like to know what Plan B is, and I like making informed decisions. I’m learning to be more spontaneous – my husband is more of a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ kind of guy, but at the end of the day, I’m much more comfortable when I know what’s coming. You can imagine that when things don’t go the way I envision, I start to get anxious and am not the best at adapting. God is almost always teaching me in this area – you’d think I would have learned that my plans often give me such a small view of the life God wants for me; He wants so much more for me than I could plan myself.
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. – Luke 1:26-31, 35, 38
As I read over the sermon text from Sunday, and place myself in a position like Mary’s, I wonder what her plans were for her life. She had a family and a history, she had things she was good at and things she loved to do. We know she was betrothed to Joseph, and like any young girl, probably had dreams of what her marriage and family would look like. She probably thought she would lead a “normal” life.
Having just been married this year, I can somewhat relate to the thoughts Mary may have had. I may be older than she was, but the dreams of a new life with my husband, moving into a new house, starting a new job and starting our life together were all I was thinking about. Let’s imagine none of God’s plan had come to be yet – the furthest thing from my mind would have been God coming to me and telling me I would be pregnant by the Holy Spirit and bringing Jesus into the world. I would’ve asked a million questions, definitely had some anxiety, maybe made a spreadsheet, and at the end, maybe would’ve thought, “God, that isn’t exactly what I had in mind for this year.” I’d like to think I would have responded in full faith like Mary did, but then I ask myself, am I even praying big enough for God to trust me with huge things?
I wonder what Mary had been praying for in the days leading up to Gabriel’s visit. I wonder how God had been preparing her for such a huge, life changing moment. I’m sure she didn’t ever ask to be the mother of the Savior of the world or that she would be ridiculed and judged for what looked to be a pregnancy outside of marriage. Our humanity would never even think to pray for something like that, but did she ask God to do unimaginable things in her life? Did she pray for her plans to be shaped into God’s plans? What would someone pray for to receive a responsibility as big as this?
“Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Mary surrendered to God’s will without knowing the whole story. She was prepared and willing to be whatever God asked her to be. She was completely redirected, but she knew that a yes to God would bring the “fullness of joy.” Though she did ask questions and may have felt confusion or disbelief, she still responded with, “let it be to me according to your word.” She didn’t say, let it be for me and secretly hope God would change His mind. She made an all encompassing, completely faithful decision to say, Thy will be done, and believe that what was coming would be greater than anything she could imagine. She believed that what God was doing in her was part of a much bigger story.
If a young, ordinary, virgin girl can be used for something as great as the birth of Jesus, what could He do in someone ordinary like you and me?
With our mouths we pray, ‘thy will be done,’ but with our hearts we hope, ‘thy will match mine.’ Why do we limit a Sovereign and holy God to our human condition? Mary didn’t.
We must learn to hope for immeasurably more.
Our current sermon series, Gospel Promises, has brought so much of my faith journey to the front of mind. I’ve been encouraged and challenged, but mostly I’ve been reminded of my own testimony of “hope in suffering”, of my “needs being heard and met in Jesus”, and of “God using every experience and circumstance for my good in Christ.”
Four years ago, as a 23-year-old fresh out of college and starting my ministry career, my health took a major blow. I’d had my share of health struggles with food allergies, but this was different – this one sidelined me in a time of my life that I thought would be fruitful and full of great things. I was losing weight rapidly, I had no appetite, my energy was low, my entire abdomen hurt, I was nauseous 24/7 and no one could figure out why. After four months of being poked, prodded, tested and poked some more, I found myself admitted to the hospital and getting ready for exploratory surgery. Let me tell you – it’s a frightening experience to be put to sleep and not know what you might wake up to. I woke up to find out my small intestine had collapsed, a section was removed, and just like that, the doctor said I was fixed.
However, two months later, I developed an incisional hernia and was told I’d need another surgery to repair it. I was of course frustrated, but with a quick fix and recovery, I was back on my feet. I struggled a lot in these months; I asked God, why, countless times. Nothing made sense to me, my doctors, my parents – we were all at a loss as to why this happened to a healthy 23-year-old with no conditions or diseases that caused strictures in the intestine – it just happened. We all know how frustrating it is to be in a season and not understand what God is doing.
Just when I thought my spiritual lessons had all been learned and my physical body was healed, my symptoms from before came back. I was poked and tested again with no answers, so it was back to the operating room. After another intestinal fix, and another eight day hospital stay, I was headed home…just to develop another incisional hernia and need another surgery. If you’ve lost count, that’s 4 surgeries in 14 months at the age of 24, for no apparent reason.
As you can imagine, an experience like this was traumatic and painful – physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually. Add to that the emotional pain of going through a really bad breakup halfway through the whole ordeal – I was in the hardest season of my life. There were days where I wondered what God could possibly need to send me through all of this for…and all at once. All I wanted was to be able to catch my breath from struggle. I wanted to lead worship without wondering if I’d pass out, I wanted to stop talking about doctors and hospitals, I wanted to see my friends and stop being lonely, and I just wanted to stop losing battles.
In a sermon a couple of weeks ago, Aaron mentioned Paul and the thorn in his flesh that kept him from boasting from 2 Corinthians 12. It says,
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
From the beginning of this journey, I have prayed Isaiah 41:18-20 – that people “would see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.”
Nothing I have accomplished in the last four years has been because of me. I look back now and see all of the gifts God was giving me along the way –I was prayed for by people I barely knew and gained a support community, I was sustained and strengthened when I needed it, I met a guy who was the most supportive and encouraging friend, and is now my husband, and I was growing and becoming more like Jesus. I’m two and a half years past my last surgery, and I still have side effects that flare up from time to time that make me weak and nauseous and frustrated. I still don’t have the answer to my questions of why this all happened, and why it isn’t over. In fact, I am facing another surgery next month for an ankle that needs to be repaired. I still plead with God to let this leave me, “just give me good health,” but I have learned to recognize and remember God’s Sovereignty. All things considered, I should not have physically made it through countless Sunday mornings, and this is still a battle, but the struggles in my story have given testimony to songs of His faithfulness and goodness, kindness and plan for us. I’ve been given this thorn to boast in my weakness, receive the power of Christ, glorify His name, and allow people to see and know that He is the One who deserves worship, even when we don’t feel like it. I know that wherever He is taking me, He is present and working – not idly sitting by, hoping things come together. There is a purpose and a plan to constantly work all things for my good and to make me more like Jesus. All of my needs are heard and met in Jesus because He is only good. There is hope in suffering because He is not finished with us yet and we will become like His Son in full glory.
After all You are constant
After all You are only good
After all You are sovereign
Not for a moment will You forsake me
Not for a moment will You forsake me
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” -Psalm 73:26